julia child’s bouillabaisse recipe

julia child's bouillabaisse recipe provencal fish soup

I’m caught up in Julia Child fever — the movie Julie & Julia is opening this weekend and I’m not ashamed to say that I will be standing in line for a ticket. I’ve read that Meryl Streep has captured the best of what we love about Julia, from her warbly, exuberant voice to her healthy physical lust for her husband.

Thinking about my Julia Child moment had me plucking my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking off the shelf for a little sit-down time. I wanted to make a recipe from the book, but I had trouble conjuring that spark of hunger that usually makes me rush to the kitchen to cook.

Is it because some of the recipes in Mastering are stuck in a bit of a time warp?

julia child's bouillabaisse recipe provencal fish soup

Browsing through the book, I see recipes that speak to another time, a time before crème fraîche became a staple in the grocery store and we knew not to cook a piece of pork to within an inch of its life: cold chicken aspic decorated with slivers of canned pimiento, veal Prince Orloff and crepes filled with boiled, canned pineapple.

In my mind I draw a caricature of the 1960’s American housewife that Julia was writing for – a perfectly coiffed woman about to throw a dinner party in her sprawling suburban ranch house, wearing a bullet bra, Jackie O Chanel suit and smoking a long cigarette, like a character from the television show Mad Men.

But in between the thick, cream-colored pages of Julia’s tome are a multitude of other classic recipes and techniques that will never go out of style or fail to please – her precise directions for making homemade mayonnaise, perfect rolled omelets and puffy souffles are what make Mastering the Art of French Cooking stand alone on the cookbook shelf.

I chose to make the bouillabaisse (page 52) the other day, along with a rouille sauce to smear on crusty toasted bread.

Bouillabaisse is a Provençal fish soup, and Julia stresses the importance of keeping it simple; the broth is fortified with lots of seafood shells and trimmings (available for a few dollars a pound at your fish counter) and flavored with the typical flavors of the region: garlic, saffron, olive oil and tomatoes.

The soup was outstanding and I like how it had something for everyone at my table (picky children among them)  – delicious broth, different kinds of fish and seafood, and a big hunk of bread to soak up every drop in the bowl.

The simplicity and authentic taste of this recipe is what Julia Child is all about to me. It also defines how I love to cook.

julia child's bouillabaisse recipe provencal fish soup

Julia says it best:

This is the kind of food I had fallen in love with: not trendy, souped-up fantasies, just something very good to eat….the ingredients have been carefully selected and beautifully and knowingly prepared. Or, in the words of the famous gastronome Curnonsky, “Food that tastes of what it is.”  (from My Life in France)

julia child's bouillabaisse

Yield 6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup each chopped onion and leek
  • 4 cloves smashed garlic
  • 2 or 3 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped or 2 cups canned
  • 2 1/2 quarts water
  • Fresh herb sprigs: thyme, parsley, fennel fronds and basil (in any combination)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crumbled saffron
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 3 - 4 pounds fish heads, bones, trimmings, shrimp shells
  • 1 pound each: peeled shrimp (use the shells for the stock); wild cod, halibut or other flaky white fish, cut into large chunks; debearded, scrubbed mussels or clams
  • Crusty bread, sliced

Rouille:

  • 1 roasted and peeled red bell pepper
  • 1 roasted hot red chile pepper or ground cayenne pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 small peeled garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs or finely chopped almonds
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • Fine sea salt, about 1/2 teaspoon or to taste
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions

For the soup:

  1. Heat the oil in a tall pot (I use an 8 quart stockpot) over medium heat; add the onion and leek and cook gently until softened. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute until fragrant, then add the tomatoes, water, herbs, saffron, salt and fish bones and shrimp shells. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat so that the broth bubbles slowly without boiling.
  2. Cook 30 minutes, then strain the broth into a large bowl or another pot and discard the solids.
  3. Pour the broth back into the stockpot and bring to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook until they turn pink, a minute or two. Add the rest of the fish and shellfish, cover and simmer until the mussels or clams open (this will just take a few minutes).
  4. Taste the soup and add more salt and freshly ground pepper if needed.

Make the rouille:

  1. Puree everything except for the olive oil in a food processor until smooth. Slowly add the olive oil while processing to form a paste.
  2. Toast the bread and brush with olive oil.
  3. Serve the soup with bread and rouille.

 

Trout Roasted in Salt

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I recently read Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe, and it kind of rocked my seafood-lovin’ world. Grescoe writes in an entertaining, slightly curmudgeonly style, and what he presents very convincingly is that the end of the world is coming – our oceanic world stocked with a diverse abundance of fish and seafood, that is.

He reports that because over the past fifty years or so the premium, top of the chain predator fish like tuna, cod and swordfish have been fished out of existence, the world’s oceans will have nothing left to offer us but bottomfeeders and plenty of algae. That could means lots of jellyfish on the menu by the year 2025. Jellyfish fingers anyone?

How depressing! Just think that if more sustainable fishing practices are not put in place soon, our children’s children will never know the pleasure of eating fresh, wild seafood.

Mark Bittman wrote about the sad state of seafood in the New York Times the other day, too. Besides the fact that some people are of the opinion that Bittman might be verging on going vegan, I think it shows that the situation has reached a tipping point, and attention must be paid.

If you head over to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website, you can print out a cute and handy pocket guide to help in the search for sustainable seafood. And now there’s a new guide for sushi, too!

Farm raised trout is one of the best, sustainable choices out there. Roasting the whole fish in a bed of salt couldn’t be easier, and because the salt helps the fish retain moisture as it cooks, the flesh remains tender and juicy. And no, it’s doesn’t taste at all salty.

Trout Roasted in Salt, Italian Fisherman Style

4 servings

4 whole trout, about 1 pound each
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 crushed garlic cloves
1 lemon, thinly sliced
4 sprigs each fresh basil, thyme or rosemary or a combination
Fresh ground black pepper
2 (3-pound) boxes kosher salt

•    Arrange rack in center of oven and heat to 400 degrees.
•    Pour the contents of one box of salt in a roasting pan large enough to hold the fish side by side. Pour the other box of salt into an ovenproof pan or baking dish. Put both pans in the oven to heat for 20 minutes.
•    In a small bowl, stir together the garlic and olive oil. Open trout like a book and drizzle the oil over the flesh, using your fingers to distribute it evenly. Arrange 2 lemon slices on one half of each trout and sprinkle with pepper; scatter with the herb sprigs and close.
•    Nestle the trout into the hot salt in the roasting pan and pour the remaining pan of salt over to cover, patting it down gently.
•    Roast 20 minutes; remove from the oven and let rest 5 minutes before scooping off the top layer of salt. Carefully lift the fish out of the pan with a spatula and transfer to a serving platter.
•    To serve, present each trout whole, or use a spatula to gently lift each fillet away from the skin, discarding the backbone.